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New mothers' health risks: Serious infections after childbirth

The birth of a child is joyful experience for a family. In the days that follow, they will learn how to handle some major life adjustments. A downside is that some women are at risk for developing an infection in the days and weeks following childbirth.

It is imperative that new mothers work with their health care providers to keep an eye on the healing process. In the postpartum period in the hospital, nurses examine obstetric patients; during this process, they check for any signs that something is amiss. Unfortunately, they may miss critical signs of postpartum infections.

What types of infections can occur after birth?

Uterine infections may develop in the postpartum period. The location in the uterus determines what the infection is called. Endometritis is an infection in the uterine lining. Myometritis is an infection in the uterine muscle. Parametritis is an infection in an area around the uterus.

In women who had vaginal births, the bacteria that occurs naturally in the vagina can cause infections. Women who had C-sections can develop infections at the wound sites from bacteria that gets introduced.

One issue that can lead to an infection is a retained placenta. Even just a small piece of it remaining in the uterus can cause serious problems. For this reason the placenta is examined after birth to ensure it is whole. Even a woman who delivered vaginally might need surgery if there are signs of a retained placenta.

What are the signs of a uterine infection?

In some women, the only sign that something is wrong is a fever. The fever may be low-grade, usually occurring one to three days after delivery. It is also possible for postpartum patients to suffer from lower abdominal pain, which can be mild to severe. They may also have a vaginal discharge, experience a loss of appetite, feel lethargic or have headaches.

Unfortunately, women with uterine infections will likely have to be in the hospital for longer than planned. These infections usually require administration of intravenous antibiotics until no fever is present for 48 hours. While new mothers yearn to get home to their families, a doctor's failure to diagnose and treat an infection can lead to serious injury or even death for a new mother.

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